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Sustainable Food Summit: Day Two

Insight February 16, 2011

All of the speakers who presented during the second day of the Sustainable Foods Summit emphasized the need for transparency in sustainability communications.

Today I attended the second day of Organic Monitor’s two day Sustainable Foods Summit.

Here are some highlights from the  late morning sessions (those after 10:00 am) on Day Two . . .

Ellen Feeney, VP of Responsible Livelihood, WhiteWave Foods discussed her company’s mission to be the Earth’s Favorite Food Company using the power of the WhiteWave’s brands  &  scale of its (and presumably it’s parent company, Dean Foods‘) business.  Ellen introduced Josh Holmstrom, brand manager for Horizon Organic, who emphasized that mainstream organic is a good thing.  Josh stated that the most important aspect of Horizon’s branding is its packaging, while messaging and innovation also play important roles.  For example, when Horizon added DHA to its milk, that created a huge messaging opportunity for Horizon.  Josh also mentioned that Horizon will be launching a new website in the next couple weeks, along with a new print media  campaign featuring Happy the Cow.

Building on a  reoccurring theme of the conference, Josh expressed that the success of the Horizon brand depends on its ability to successfully educate consumers and employees alike in order to to develop trust with these stakeholders.

After Josh, we heard from Shel Horowitz, author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green, who spoke after the morning break.  Shel used the example of Marcal toilet paper’s branding transition as a case study.

Marcal started making recycled toilet paper in 1950, but they didn’t tell anyone, presumably because recycling was not yet in vogue.  Marcal survived a bankruptcy in 2006, re-did its packaging in 2008 to emphasize “green” principles and again in 2010, transitioning to the SmallSteps brand, and adding “Enviro Facts.”

Shel stated that, when coupled with transparent, honest communications, the following marketing points tend to resonate with consumers:

Green processes — practices and goals;

Organic & land stewardship — how what you do benefits the planet;

Local — how far the product traveled & benefits to the local community;

Health benefits — substantiated benefits, be conscious of FDA/FTC compliance;

Indigenous economies — how you support sourcing communities 

Shel concluded that the benefits of honest, conscious marketing are:

(a) consumer retention; (b) loyalty expansion; (c) creating evangelists and the virtuous circle; and (d) transforming marketing from a cost into a revenue stream

Alex Petrov, the General Manager for Consumer Brands for Safeway, discussed his company’s private label brand,  O Organics.

Safeway’s O Organics brand is the best selling organic brand.  Alex shared that Safeway is focused on bulding bigger better brands faster in the sustainability space.  With the O Organics brand, Safeway transformed the Private Label Business model  by building Consumer Product Goods (CPG ) capability within a retailer.  Prior to the launch of O Organics in 2005, Safeway was losing sales to natural, specialty retailers.  Safeway recognized that consumers wanted healthier food, while the organic market was cluttered and confusing, and organic foods tended to be more expensive.  Safeway’s goal became to make high quality organics available to everyone, by, as they put it, “democratizing the organic space.”

Safeway is accomplishing this by scaling its highly developed supply/sourcing network and by spending significant time and money understanding and interacting with its consumers.  The organic sector increased by 54% in the last three years and Safeway’s O Organics brand is at the forefront of that growth.  Mr. Petrov attributes  Safeway O brand’s success to selling a wide variety of packaged food, making that food taste good and be widely available and affordable, along with having  innovatie packaging and merchandising.  Safeway’s goal is to pull up the entire organics market, both its competitors and its own, though some audience members questioned Safeway’s willingness to share shelf space with other brands.

Before lunch we hears from my friend, Timothy Kenyon,  a Manager with GFK Roper consumer market research company, which produces the GreenGauge® Report, the only nationwide, long-term syndicated study of consumer attitudes and behaviors towards the environment.  GFK’s Green Gauge divides consumers into the following market segments: Green inDeed, Carbon Cultured,  Glamour Green, Green in Need & Jaded.

GFK’s research indicates that Consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with green products, specifically their cost, quality, & lack of transparency.  There’s an overall decline in purchasing of green products (Safeway apparently is unaware of this trend) with a corresponding decline in the general belief in the perils of global warming.  Interestingly, green practices (recycling, reusable products, etc.) are stable or increasing.  Tim stated that trust is really important in the environmental space; (surprise!) and trust in the corporation becomes more important than the brands.  GFK’s research also indicated that “Gen Y” consumers, and are increasingly likely to purchase organic beverages and packaged foods.  The bottom line is that while the U.S. market skeptical, they also want affordable, sustainable food that has a positive benefit on people and the planet.

BrandGeek BrandBite: All of the speakers who presented during the Sustainable Foods Summit emphasized the need for transparency in sustainability communications — open, honest dialogue with consumers about a company or brand’s achievements and shortcomings on each aspect of the triple bottom line (people, planet & profit).  Many of the presenters found that consumers reward honesty with brand loyalty.